UPDATE - Just got a call from Dale Garland, I am officially in Hard Rock! Let the fun times begin!
A spectacular day in the San Juans! Not a cloud in the sky, temperatures in the 70s, wind at your back on the divide, and minimal snow! All of that equates to some fast times! And when I say fast I'm talking Matt Carpenter/Dave Mackey fast! Overall this wasn't my best race but I am more than pleased with my time! I shaved over an hour off my PR from two previous San Juan races. Results. Here's how the race unfolded:
Start to Williams (0- 15.7) 2.44
A very nice and conversational pace to start up the road for 2 myles to the first climb. At the start of the climb, Gary Gellin was out front followed by Burch, myself, and Dakota. We ran quite a ways up, almost to the last clearing before the switch-backs. I felt strong climbing and the others looked strong as well. Made it up to the aid station in 1.24, which was a full 6 minutes faster than I had been to that point. At the aid, Ryan and I stopped for water and Dakota and Gary took off. Dakota was hootin' and hollerin' cause we were above tree line on single track and he felt good. I knew that Burch was much quicker than I going down so I had to let him go and hope I could reel him in on the climbs. Before we got into the trees Burch had reeled in Dakota and were about 4 minutes up on me. Things started to shake loose for me so I had to stop for a bio break and felt much better. I got into Williams in 2.44 and thought I was way too fast, only to find out Burch and Dakota were 7 minutes up on me. Either they were going to blow up or throw down some killer times.
Williams to Divide Yurt (15.7 - 31) 6.09
My family refueled me at Williams with EFS, an oatmeal cookie, and a swig of Ensure. I started out on the road but my legs were heavy, feeling really weak from the descent. Didn't think much of it, just thought I needed to shake them out on the somewhat flat 2 mile dirt road. Gary Gellin was now back with me (he had slowed a bit above tree line but caught back up on the descent) and we started the climb up to Carson together. Mid-way up the climb I realized I was working way too hard for the pace I was going - meaning I knew I was going slow but couldn't do anything about it. I've been there before and know things change so I was hoping for the best. We pulled into Carson in 3.59. I had lost about 7 or 8 minutes on the climb. I left the aid station and as soon as I could see the Carson divide I started looking up to catch a glimpse of Dakota or Burch.... didn't see Dakota but saw Burch about 10 minutes up. Dakota was gone!
Finally I get up to the divide and the all too familiar Colorado Trail. Now I don't want to be a sissy here but I got a little emotional. My last time up there I was on my 8th day on the CT with Paul DeWitt, lots of good memories. Those emotions gave me a boost and the legs seemed to be returning. I've always said your ability to run the 9 myles of the CT in this race is pivotal to doing well. Well I ran almost every step up on the divide and I was still caught by Sean O'Rouke. He was motoring! It was Sean's first 50 mile race ever. He won Jemez 50K a few weeks back and signed up for this race the night before on a whim... So I pull into the Yurt in 6.09. I wanted to be there by 6 for a shot at going under 9 but I had not made any of the time back from the climb up to Carson. My father in law, Rick, had made the climb up to the Yurt to give me essential EFS liquid shot - gotta have the good stuff in my blood. The legs were coming around and things started to click.
Divide Yurt to Vickers (31 - 46.5) 8.47
Back on the road I'm running almost everything and mentally starting to think I can start to catch people. 30 minutes away from the Yurt I reach back to grab my EFS liquid shot... Shit! It had fallen out of my waist pack on one of the descents. I had one gel in reserve so that would be enough to pull me through to Slumgullion. I still had water, stomach was good, and energy was surprisingly good. Just before I headed down into the trees toward Slumgullion I glanced back to get a gauge on the others. Back at the Yurt Kevin Shilling was pulling in as I was leaving and with plenty of rocky downhills to go I was watching my back.
I pulled into Slumgullion in 7.32 where my lovely wife was there to greet me with my bag of goodies. Gave me some watermelon, coke, Powerbar gummy gels, and a NEW EFS flask. I was off quick cause I knew Kevin was coming. Now for the last climb of the day, which in previous years has just left me for dead. 30 minutes out from Slumgullion I reached back and guess what? Yep, flask had fallen out again! Now I was screaming explitives about the same time Gary Gellin was hot on my heels. I didn't expect to see him but he looked strong, he gave me a gel, I gave him a push, and he off. I followed Gary as best I could but he was running 1/2 the steep stuff. Were talking about 1800 ft of climbing in almost 3 myles! Nice finish Gary (a la Victor Ballesteros)! The magic number at Vickers to finish under 9 hours is about 8.15.... well 8.15 came and went and still not at Vickers. I was climbing good and still running at a steady pace but didn't get into Vickers until 8.47.
Vickers to Finish (46.5 - 50) 9.28:20
This turned out to be the most dramatic finish for me in my ultra career. The race finishes on a semi-technical rocky descent. Knowing that Kevin Shilling (technical downhill speed demon) was on my heels, had me constantly checking the rear view mirror. No matter how fast I went down that hill into town I knew Kevin would somehow catch me... sure enough on the second to last switch back Kevin is suddenly there about 50 meters back. Now with just over a mile heading into town on the streets I had to muster up some of that speed work from back in February. Kevin wasn't gonna give this one to me and it was evident with the look on his face. Every time I pushed to where the lungs and leg muscles weren't working anymore, I'd back it off and look back only to find Kevin inching closer. I'm not sure what our last mile split was but I can tell you I could not even stand after I finished, Kevin was on the verge of puking, so I know we both gave it our all. Ironically Kevin and I had a very similar battle last year at Squaw Peak were I only beat him by a couple minutes but same scenario.
This year was a very fast year at the San Juan Solstice! Let me put things into perspective: Young (that would be 19 years old), Dakota Jones was on record pace through Slumgullion! Yes I'm talking a Matt Carpenter course record pace! Unbelievable! No matter what happens the rest of the year, this has to be one of the performance nominations of the year! This kid is good and when he's on, he has the potential to beat anyone. Not to be outdone, Ryan Burch put on a phenomenal performance as well. Ryan has been clocking some fast times all around, most recently an 8.30something at Jemez. Ryan's fastest time at SJS in previous years was in the 9.40 range and yesterday he threw down an 8.42! Now were talking Mackey fast times! Great, great job Dakota and Ryan, really happy for you guys! Not only those guys but overall there were 9 people under 10 hours, the most in the history of the race! Last, Pearl Izumi-Smith teammate Darcy Africa pulled down the women's title over Helen Cospolich with a winning time of 10.13 and 11th overall. Darcy is now primed for Hard Rock.
In the end, I want to thank my family for their support - without them this doesn't happen! Also the SJS race committee did an amazing job and that includes all of the wonderful aid station volunteers - thanks for putting on a great race in the most beautiful place in the world. I met some new people this year (Gary, Brandon, Ben, Keith, Matt, and Dakota), and reconnected with some old friends, you know who you are. I tell you what there is no better feeling than finishing a race (in the mountains) and having a few beers with family and friends - that's what it's all about!